The boss of a letting agency has been jailed for stealing £140,000 of tenants’ deposits.
After the case, it emerged that an alleged £48,000 of rent payments were also involved, plus some further deposits.
Mark Procter, director of Kirby Property in Cambourne, Cambridgeshire, was sentenced to three years and four months for fraud at Cambridge Crown Court on Friday.
Procter gradually siphoned off tenants’ deposits throughout 2014 and 2015 to pay for divorce proceedings and luxury holidays, the court heard.
Procter, who had pleaded guilty to two counts of fraud at a previous hearing, was described by Judge David Farrell QC at his sentencing as “thoroughly dishonest”.
Prosecutor Simon Wilshire said that from 2007 to 2013, Procter ran his business “successfully, profitably and legitimately” but following events in his private life in 2013 “he turned his hand to criminality in order to fund his life as it seemed to unravel around him”.
Procter’s deception was unravelled after it was discovered his NALS certificate confirming his business was financially sound had a forged signature from his accountancy firm.
The court heard that one of Procter’s employees realised something was wrong in June 2015 and contacted NALS.
Procter tried to sell his company as a going concern but after the true extent of the business was revealed to potential buyers it was unsellable and the company ceased trading in late July 2015.
Richard Gowthorpe, defending, said the start of divorce proceedings in November 2013 was when Procter’s life came “crashing down”.
He had been a company director since 20 and the company had enjoyed a good local reputation.
Mr Gowthorpe said: “This has been a huge fall from grace for him. It was a company he took pride in.
“He takes full responsibility and really does have an insight into the impact his behaviour has caused. He always had the intention to repay, which remains the case. He gained temporarily and he did live the high life for a number of months, but looking back he’s a different person.”
Judge Farrell said: “This is a serious case of dishonesty. The fact you as a company director forged the signature of a professional man, an accountant, in order to continue a business is a significant act of dishonesty.
“It went on for a significant period of time. It’s a case of significant harm and of high culpability, and the effects are so serious only immediate custody is appropriate.”
Procter was jailed for three years and four months on both counts to run currently and was disqualified from being a company director for six years.
Isobel Thomson, CEO of NALS, said after the sentencing: “We welcome the result of the Kirby Property Management case which shows that agents who commit crimes and act fraudulently will be prosecuted.
“NALS first referred the case to the police when we became aware of the fraud, and we worked closely with Cambridgeshire Police to ensure Mark Procter was brought to justice and his victims were compensated.
“It was important the police took this case to its conclusion, as it is only through the courts imposing severe sentences that anyone tempted to misuse clients’ money will be deterred.
“NALS firmly believes there is never any excuse on the part of any individual to use or misappropriate other people’s money regardless of what personal pressures they are under.
“This case once again highlights the importance of mandatory Client Money Protection, which in this instance saved many landlords and tenants thousands of pounds.”
While TDS will have recompensed the tenants, she said that there were some company lets where the deposits were not protected and NALS paid out on those through the CMP scheme. There was also around £48,000 in rental money additionally paid out by NALS to landlords.
Kirby Property was founded by Procter in 2001 and was licensed by NALS and bonded for CMP to £3m. It was also a member of TPO and the Tenancy Deposit Scheme.
The Kirby Property website at the weekend was showing as “reserved for future use”.